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News

June 05, 2008 - Forced sheep tagging not viable, says meat industry

By Neil Merrett

05-Jun-2008 - UK meat processors have backed the country's farmers over concerns at the cost of implementing European directives requiring compulsory electronic tagging on sheep in the next few years.

The European Commission is currently requiring all farmers in the bloc by 2010 to individually track and record sheep and goat in the market through use of an Electronic Identification (EID) and reader system.

Processors View

In response, Philip Hambling, food policy manager for the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), told FoodProductionDaily.com that he believed the EID system would benefit the entire meat industry in the long term.

However, Hambling added that forcing farmers to adopt the tracking technology under European law in the next two years would currently be unaffordable for many in the industry.

"There are management benefits to be had for all those in the chain if the technology, costs and practicalities of applying such systems in the UK market can be overcome," he stated.  "However, these benefits will not be sufficiently realised with a forced EID regime which will come loaded with more of the costs."

The BMPA claim that current policy, which was adopted on 1 January this year, is weak, but will nonetheless require a major turnaround in current opinion to prevent.

"The Council Regulation and general apathy of most Member States, who will not be affected because they do not have a significant sheep production sector, leads us to believe that only a sea change at the Council of Ministers will change the direction," said Hambling.

Farmer criticisms

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has been even more scathing in their attack on the EID policy, claming the current system of ID and batch recording already sufficiently ensures food safety and disease control.

Besides the practical issues, the group adds that it is particularly concerned at the costs involved of being forced to adopt the system, both for hardware, software and training.

"We have spent most of this decade lobbying against EID and we believe the current tagging system already works well in recording movements and offering control against animal disease problems in the UK," stated the NFU.

"With UK livestock farm incomes forecast by Defra at between £5,900 and £8,700 we estimate EID will knock around 40 per cent off the farmer's income overnight."

Commission concerns

The EC has put the current EID scheme in practice in a bid to improve traceability within the current meat supply to address consumer concerns over safety.

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